COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

By Jennifer Prizeman-Utara, Esquire

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COVID-19 Confinement and Increased Domestic Violence

At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, a sad reality has been well-documented across the globe: domestic violence is on the rise. In general, times of crisis tend to increase domestic violence and COVID-19 has been no exception. Many domestic violence advocates and organizations immediately sounded the alarm. Lockdowns and quarantine measures, while necessary to control the spread of the virus, have trapped many victims with their abusers. For them, staying home is also dangerous.

Although women, children, and people in the LGBTQ and disabled communities are more likely to experience abuse, it happens to those in every demographic. If you are being harmed by a partner, help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

“Confinement under stay-at-home orders is ‘a perfect storm’ for violent behaviour behind closed doors…as it exacerbates tensions about security, health, and money.”
- Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women

Factors Contributing to the Increase

There are many reasons a victim may feel trapped in an abusive situation, and those reasons have likely intensified during the pandemic. An abuser often controls the money in a household and has pulled their partner away from their family and friends. For many, isolation and lack of adequate finances have worsened due to COVID-19. Other factors include;

  • In-person contact with friends, family, and co-workers has been dramatically reduced, if not cut off completely.
  • Economic impacts due to business closures and widespread job losses have caused immense financial strain, especially for low income households.
  • Increased parenting stress from prolonged periods of school closures and decreased access to daycare
  • Increased fear and anxiety, especially relating to health and economic concerns
  • Complete disruption of family routines
  • Couples already having problems in their relationship have found themselves confined.
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • During lockdowns, abusers are able to exert even more control over their victims through constant surveillance and dictating rules for their victims’ behavior.

In many cases, the pandemic has made it more complicated and difficult for victims to escape. Every decision we make these days seems fraught with complexity. What if the friend or family member offering you a place to stay has not been taking any social distancing measures? What if you or your child have an underlying medical condition and you feel unsafe staying there?

Reaching Out for Help Discreetly

You may feel that you have no safe place to go, but support services are still available. Governments, advocacy organizations, and community service providers are working to keep victims of domestic and intimate partner violence safe. Many providers have transitioned to offering services remotely via telephone, text, chat, or email. For example, if it is not safe to talk, you can chat 24 hours a day with the National Domestic Violence Hotline via their website or text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.

With social distancing, lockdowns, and working remotely, it is more difficult to safely reach out for help when a victim is stuck at home with their abusive partner. Recently, a hand signal developed by the Canadian Women’s Foundation became popular online. The “Signal for Help” enables victims of domestic violence to discreetly signal that they need help to the person they are speaking with on a video call. For a video demonstration and advice on what to do if someone gives you the signal, including safe ways to check in with them, go here.

Although texting 911 is available in certain areas, such as the District of Columbia, Prince George’s County, MD, and many Virginia counties, in many areas it is still not. Maryland counties are actively working to add this capability. If you text 911 a message and you are in an area that does not support the service yet, FCC regulations require that you get a “bounce-back” message alerting you that the text failed to deliver. To see more details on where text to 911 is available, click here.

Going to an Emergency Room

If you are injured and need emergency care, health experts caution against delaying care out of fear of contracting COVID-19, as emergency room staffs have been trained in preventing its spread.

Safety Planning

Having a safety plan ready before a situation becomes extremely dangerous can allow you to think through all aspects of your escape. This step may be more important now than ever. Planning your escape from an abuser can be a dangerous time, especially if they are watching your activities, eavesdropping on your calls, and/or monitoring your electronic devices. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has text and chat features for survivors to seek help without tipping off their abuser. However, if you suspect that your abuser is monitoring your device, even those may not be safe options. Given how easy it has become to obtain and install spyware, do not ignore your intuition.

If you believe someone might be monitoring your phone or computer activity, it is safer to use a trusted friend or family member’s device — outside your household and away from your abuser. Even this step could be more complicated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps you would have stopped at a friend’s house on your way home from work and been able to use her phone or computer. If you are working remotely, making an excuse to leave the house in order to see a friend takes more planning and preparation. We recommend reading our discussion of ways to stay safe online while researching your escape here. Many of our tips come from Operation: Safe Escape. Their mission is to help victims of domestic violence escape abusive environments, and they are especially knowledgeable about how to use electronic devices safely while researching, planning, and executing your escape.

Travel restrictions may also impact how a survivor would normally escape. For example, there have been many service changes to public transportation due to the pandemic. For those in the DC area, WMATA is running Metrorail on a shorter schedule. As of August 4, 2020, it runs from 5:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Monday thru Friday, and 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Additionally, certain stations are closed and line operations have been adjusted.

Domestic Violence Resources

Remember: you are not alone, and you are not at fault. Unfortunately, intimate partner violence is common – it happens to approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men. If you fear for your safety or are being harmed by a partner, help is available 24/7 at many of the organizations listed below. When it is safe to do so, discuss your situation and create a safety plan with a domestic violence organization, as well as a knowledgeable domestic violence lawyer who can help you with safety planning and obtaining legal protections like a protective order.

Below you will find domestic violence resources for emergency shelter, legal services, and safety planning. Keep in mind that since the COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, some of this information may change:

National Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 (TTY: 1-800-787-3224)
You can also chat via their website 24/7/365.
If it is not safe to talk, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474

Operation Safe Escape
202-656-6430‬
Has resources for safety planning and online safety advice

The National Sexual Assault Hotline
Get help 24/7: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Chat here with a trained specialist online

Women’s Shelters
Has a nationwide directory of emergency, family, and transitional shelters for women

Local Resources

Maryland

House of Ruth Maryland
24-hr hotline and for emergency shelter: 410-889-7884

Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence 
1-800-MD-HELPS
For a list of programs by county in Maryland that offer comprehensive domestic violence services (24 hour hotline, access to shelter, counseling services, and advocacy), click here

Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault
1-800-983-RAPE
For rape crisis centers and services across Maryland, go here.

Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA)
For a list of domestic violence resources for counties throughout Maryland, click here.

Maryland Legal Aid
For an office list by county, go here.

AYUDA
Provides services by telephone for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault.
240-594-0600

2-1-1 Maryland
Call 211 for help, or text your zip code to 898-211.
More domestic violence resources are available here.

You can also seek immediate assistance at a local police station, an emergency room, or by calling 911.

Montgomery County

Montgomery County DHHS Abused Persons Program 24 Hour Crisis Services

For county residents, the program offers victims of abuse services such as emergency shelter, transitional housing, and 24 hour telephone and walk-in crisis counseling.
24 Crisis Center: 240-777-4000 (TTY 240-777-4815)
Service/Intake: 240-777-4195

Montgomery County Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program (VASAP)
Weekdays: 240-777-1355
24-hour crisis line 240-777-4357

Montgomery County Police Department Domestic Violence Unit
240-773-5050

You can also seek immediate assistance at a local police station, an emergency room, or by calling 911.

District of Columbia

D.C. Victim Hotline
To reach the hotline, dial or text 1-844-4HELPDC (1-844-443-5732)
Access their online chat here

D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Lists domestic violence resources and providers for D.C.

Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
Call (202) 628-1161 or complete an online intake form.

DC Safe
For domestic violence services or to speak with a DC SAFE Advocate, call their Crisis Response Line at 1-800-407-5048.
Their Domestic Violence Intake Centers are temporarily closed due to COVID-19.

D.C. Shelter Hotline
202-399-7093

House of Ruth (D.C.)
If you need safe shelter, call 202-667-7001, ext. 320 or email [email protected]
For domestic violence counseling services, call their Domestic Violence Support Center at 202-667-7001, ext. 515.

My Sister’s Place
202-529-5261

AYUDA
Provides services by telephone for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault. Information available in several languages under the AYUDA SERVICES & RESOURCES COVID-19 menu.
202-387-4848

You can also seek immediate assistance at a D.C. police station, an emergency room, or by calling 911.